Sometimes a show feels like it is gently meandering along, taking its audience on a journey from A-B that, by the end, lets them sit back and relax, knowing they will soon return home with a nice rosy glow and a feeling that they have had a really pleasant evening at the theatre. Of course, complacency is something to be wary of, and a good playwright knows exactly when to change the mood of the show and shake the emotions making sure the audience will never forget what they have just seen. Tabitha Mortiboy’s Beacons, receiving its world premiere at Park Theatre, is a case in point.
Sitting perched on top of a cliff at Beachy Head in East Sussex is an ice cream van, ready to sell ices, sweets and coffee to visitors to the world famous cliffs. The van is owned by Julie (Tessa Peake-Jones) and, since the closure of the footpath, isn’t doing well. Still, during the summer the business has managed to sustain both Julie and her part-time help, 16-year-old Skye (Emily Burnett), though not necessarily with any help from Julie’s best customer Bernard (Paul Kemp), a shambling man whose friendship with Julie goes back many years. Life goes on with each day pretty much the same, Julie and Skye open the van, Bernard comes for a chat and a coffee or ice cream, but all three of them know things cannot stay the same forever. Julie is lonely and has started dipping her toe into the world of online dating. Skye has had to think of the future as she knows the van won’t be able to support her during the winter months and Bernard is just restless. Before moving on though, the three of them need to go back, confront their pasts and finally talk about the various elephants that sit on the cliffs looking out to sea with them.
My first impression of Beacons was amazement. Tom Rogers’ set is simply splendid. A large grassed area – complete with the odd weed poking through – at the edge of a cliff face, is dominated by a full size – and to me it looked genuine – ice cream trailer complete with the old fashioned ‘Walls’ signage and a working ice cream machine in it. My immediate thought was if the production was half as good as my initial impression of the set, then this was going to be a good night. And I wasn’t wrong. Tabitha Moritboy has written, not to put too finer point on it, an absolute corker of a show. She very quickly establishes the three characters as genuine people in their own right who I found really easy to get to know, understand and care about. Tabitha first presented Beacons as a short play at “Playfest” and has worked for over two years to turn it into a full length play. The extension of the original short story really works and Tabitha has a wonderful way with words giving the impression of a simple tale but ultimately writing a story with multiple layers for each character.
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Initially, the story moves gently along with the end of each day – and each scene – being denoted by the locking up of the van and the light from the lighthouse sweeping around the room in a great piece of work by Director Philip Wilson. That the play keeps going so well is down not just to the excellent writing but also the superb acting by this truly wonderful cast. All three of them are perfect both individually and together. Special credit has to go out to Emily Burnett who is an absolute dream as Skye. She may be young but by goodness, that girl can act and have an audience laughing and crying as we she lets us into Skye’s story.
I’m not sure what more I can say about Beacons, I was surprised by my own reaction to the story and how emotionally involved I was by the end. Going by some of the sniffs I could hear around me, I wasn’t the only one that had been completely immersed in the tale of these three, wonderful characters who, over the course of around 90 minutes, I had come to know and love. Beacons is one of those shows where, at the end, I had got everything crossed in the hope that the good fortune I wished on Julie, Bernard and Skye would really come to pass. As the lights went up, I sat for a few seconds getting my bearings back and my emotions in check as I said goodbye to a play that is definitely one of the highspots of my theatrical visits this year.
Review by Terry Eastham
Attic Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of
by Tabitha Mortiboy
“See those three at the edge, those three in a line? That’s me, and you and Julie. We’re a constellation.”
Julie sells ice cream on the cliffs at Beachy Head and searches for love online. Her friend Bernard walks the clifftops and can’t seem to settle.
When sixteen year old Skye arrives for the summer and decides to stay, the lives of all three become unexpectedly entwined. But when memory takes hold, will their buried fears force them apart?
Tabitha Mortiboy’s magical new play tells of love, loss and midnight ice cream sundaes under the starlit skies of the South Downs.
Julie | Tessa Peake-Jones
Bernard | Paul Kemp
Skye | Emily Burnett
Director | Philip Wilson
Set Designer | Tom Rogers
Lighting Designer | Matt Daw
Sound Designer | Max Papenheim
Plays until 16th April 2016